Plug 'N Play Football

Simplifying Football for Youth Coaches

6 Things Youth Football Coaches Should Do In The Offseason

Written By: hawkcoach - Jan• 12•12

The 2011 season is in the books and whether you had an outstanding or a rebuilding year here are 6 things you should do this offseason to become a better coach:

1.  Coach Another Sport

Let’s face it, being a youth coach takes a lot more than knowledge of X’s and O’s.  You have to be a good teacher, a good communicator, be able to get along with parents and know how to get young men & women to focus.  Coaching another sport will make you more well-rounded and allow you to practice these skills.  You say that you don’t know another sport well enough to coach it?  Then be an assistant coach to someone who does know the game.  Not only will you learn the nuances of the new sport you’re coaching, you will learn how other head coaches handle things.  I believe that being an assistant coach to someone else is a tremendous learning experience for someone who has only been a head coach for a while.

2.  Attend Coaching Clinics
Many coaches don’t realize the number of clinics that are available.  One of the best for youth coaches is the Glazier Clinics.   If you go to the Glazier Clinic website click on “Coaching Clinics” in the title bar and you’ll notice that you can select “Youth Coach Scholarships.”  As long as you don’t coach at a school, you can get a scholarship to attend Glazier Clinics and you’ll get access to all their online content.  If you are truly serious about coaching you can pay a small fee to attend other clinics in your area.  NIKE Coach of the Year clinics usually have sessions directed towards youth coaches, as an example.  Colleges and universities sometimes offer clinics to area coaches for a small fee.  Additionally you can search online and find clinics for the specific type of defense or offense you run.  Chances are you’ll have to travel a bit further to get to these clinics, but the information will be more specific to what you want to accomplish as a coach.  When you consider the cost for a clinic realize that not only will you get information to make you a smarter coach, but you can make relationships with other coaches that are invaluable when you have a question or are facing a specific problem.
3.  Take Classes/Earn Certifications
There are a organizations such as USA Football, National Alliance for Youth Sports and many others that will allow you to take classes and get certifications. Some of these certifications are broad based like getting certified to coach tackle football while others help you understand the dynamics of coaching a certain age group or certain position.  You can also attend football camps.  If you have a son or a player on your team that is interested in attending a kicking camp, a quarterback camp or even just a basic football camp, you can attend with them and learn new techniques on how to coach.
4.  Read & Study Coaching Resources
Take a look at some of the posts on this site titled “What I’m Reading Now.”  These mini-reviews may give you some ideas of books to add to your personal library or books to go your local library check them out.  If you read ebooks there are literally hundreds of books available for you to download and read.  I really enjoy reading American Football Monthly magazine.  With a subscription you also get access to their online library of past issues.  There’s a ton of information in this magazine including strength and conditioning, offense, defense special teams and etc.

5.   Prepare Next Season Practice Plans

Here is a post I wrote about planning practices. The offseason is a great time to think ahead about what you want to accomplish with your practices.  To me, nothing is more frustrating than watching a coach lead a practice and you can tell he is “winging it.”  Start out by writing down what things your team didn’t do well this year that you want to improve upon.  Maybe you want to make sure you spend more time on special teams.  Perhaps you wished you would have spent more time coaching your defensive backs how to cover a receiver.  While last season is fresh in your mind start to write things down so you don’t make the same mistakes next year.  My only advice is not to make your schedule too inflexible.  Remember that you’ll have rainouts, sick kids and other circumstances so make a plan but build in some flexibility.  Most importantly you should plan the installation of your offense, defense and special teams.  Which day are you going to install your basic run plays, which day will you start teaching your defense responsibilities and so on.


6.  Work On Your Playbooks

Now is a great time to review your playbook and scrap plays that didn’t work.  Make sure your playbook has some core plays that you will spend time on each practice.  You’ll want about six plays that will define your offense.  Plays that you can make adjustments to and make yards no matter what defense you see.  I’m a big proponent of having fewer plays that are run well.  Instead, consider formation adjustments that you’ll install so you can use your core plays no matter what your opponent tries to do to take them away.  Today’s youth are in love with technology.  Consider using some type of technology to get your players interested in learning.  I’ve done many things such as putting our playbook on HUDL and showing not only the X’s and O’s but a video of what the play looks like so they can see someone who plays their position execute the play.  I’ve also given my offensive linemen DVD’s of our blocking schemes animated from Powerpoint slides so they can learn in a different way.  Remember some kids will learn better by doing, some by seeing and some by hearing.  Make sure you can help each of these kids by being able to allow kids to see a play, hear what they are supposed to do and definitely give them many repetitions to practice.

Next season may seem like it’s so far away but it always gets here sooner than you think.  Make sure next season is your best one yet by doing some things this offseason that willl make you a better coach.


What I’m Reading Now: Keep It Simple “The Wildcat Multiple Offense”

Written By: hawkcoach - Nov• 30•11

Nothing perks coaches and players interest like the “Wildcat” offense that is becoming increasingly popular.  However, don’t be mislead like I was from the title of this book.  The author, Victor E Laurie, was a middle school football coach at a school that had a mascot that was the wildcat.  This book is a multiple offense book based on an a base Pro I formation.  It includes plays run from the Power I, Power T, Divide and Spread formations.

Overall the book has a lot of information and many different plays.  It would probably target the middle school age team best.  The offense is a little too simplified for High School and is probably a little complex for younger youth teams.  The book also includes a chapter on defense and some various drills the author used with his team.

If you would like a powerful multiple offense this book will definitely give you a great start.  It’s worth reading just to see the many ways the author simplifies the offense so his players can learn it easier.  Definitely should be on the bookshelf for any higher level youth or middle school coach.


Football Helmets

Written By: hawkcoach - Nov• 30•11


If your team's helmets look like this it may be time to buy new helmets!

I just finished my first year as the head coach of a middle school program in South Florida.  After all the equipment was turned in I had a chance to take a detailed inventory of our football helmets.  We have a great athletic department and all football helmets have been reconditioned on a yearly basis.  Earlier this year the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioner’s Association (NAERA) announced that their members will no longer recondition football helmets after they are 10 years old.  One of the reasons I wanted a detailed inventory of our helmets was so I could help our athletic director better predict future helmet purchases.  My research into the topic of football helmets provided some interesting lessons and got me thinking about helmet issues for youth football programs.

Our program has 90 football helmets, the majority of which are the Schutt Youth Air Advantage.  We also have a handful of the Schutt DNA helmets and a couple of Riddell VSR4 helmets.  Knowing we would needed to develop a plan to replace helmets I did some research to try to determine which helmets were best.  I remembered hearing that Virginia Tech and Wake Forest did some testing on football helmets so I located the information here.  The only helmets tested were adult helmets but many of these adult helmets have a corresponding youth model using the same shell & pads.  After reviewing the information my recommendation is going to be phase out our VSR4 (rated marginal) and Schutt Youth Air Advantage (adequate) with the Schutt DNA Pro Plus youth helmet (rated very good).  The Schutt DNA Pro Plus helmet seems to be a great value when compared to other helmets that also earn a very good rating.

Unfortunately, there was one helmet that received a “not recommended rating” which was the Adams A2000 Pro Elite helmet.

I used to coach for a youth league in Minnesota that required players to provide their own helmets.  At the first few practices I would always make it a point to double check the fit of each players helmet as many were hand-me-downs from older siblings, helmets purchased at garage sales or a helmet purchased on Craigslist.  Many parents aren’t well educated on the subject of football helmets and wouldn’t know that one brand of helmet might lower the risk of concussion compared to another.  Perhaps even more importantly, it’s not inconceivable to think that some of the helmets being used by youth are 12-15 years old and probably have never been reconditioned.  There are currently no guidelines as to how often a helmet needs to be reconditioned but many if not most football programs send their helmets in for reconditioning at least every two years.

If you are a parent who is buying a football helmet for their child, I would recommend buying a good quality helmet from someone who can give you solid advice and can help make sure you are buying a helmet that fits.

If you are a coach in a program where players supply their own helmets I recommend inspecting each helmet to insure proper fit and to make sure the helmet is in good condition.

If you are a coach for a program that supplies helmets to the players, you may want to research which helmets provide the best protection against concussions.  You’ll also want to make sure your program has some kind of schedule to recondition helmets.

Finally, if your player uses a helmet with an air bladder please make sure that the helmet is periodically inspected to make sure the air bladder still holds air and is properly inflated.  I read a real heartbreaking story about a player who suffered a significant head injury because he was using a helmet that didn’t have any air in the air bladder when he received a blow to the helmet.

Concussions – What Every Coach Needs to Know

Written By: hawkcoach - Jul• 19•11

When I played football smelling salts were part of every team’s medical kit.  If someone got their “bell rung” or was knocked out briefly the smelling salts were brought out and the player tried to “clear the cobwebs” so he could get back on the field as soon as possible.  Today with better medical information we realize just how dangerous concussions can be.  Permanent brain injuries or even fatalities can occur if a concussions are not recognized and treated correctly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have some excellent resources for coaches on their web site -

What coaches should look for:

  • Athlete has trouble remembering events before or after the hit occured – make sure you ask questions about what events that happened before the game began and questions about the game that occured before and after the hit.
  • Personality, mood or behavior change – if athlete has an abrupt mood change, for example, a player who was upbeat and vocal suddenly becomes quiet and sullen after a hit you may suspect a concussion occured.
  • Appears dazed, stunned or answers questions slowly – this can be very subjective but always err on the side of caution.
  • Can’t remember responsibilities, plays or position – always observe the player carefully after a big hit.  If they are asking teammates for help on what they should be doing get them off the field immedietly and evaluate them.
  • Athlete has a headache, dizziness, clumsiness or is vomiting.
  • If a player loses conciousness (even briefly) always assume there is a concussion – however, most concussions occur without the athlete losing consiousness.

If you suspect a concussion there are some specific things you as a coach need to do:

  1. Remove the athlete from play – take his helmet away and don’t let him on the field even if he insists he’s alright.  One game is never worth the risk of a more serious issue if he has a concussion and takes another hit.
  2. Inform the players parents or guardians that you suspect a concussion occured and that he needs to be evaluated by a health care professional
  3. Don’t allow the athlete to practice or play until you receive written clearance from a health care professional that he’s been evaluated and is clear to play.

I strongly encourage you to get training on recognizing concussion symptoms.  A concussion is a brain injury and should always be treated as a very serious injury.


What I’m Reading Now: Football’s West Coast Offense

Written By: hawkcoach - Apr• 19•11

I started reading this book and it’s pretty good so far, doesn’t cover much of the running game but provides a good, in-depth understanding of the philosophies and plays common to the West Coast Offense.

ESPN Gruden’s QB Camp

Written By: hawkcoach - Apr• 19•11

An excellent series on ESPN right now is Jon Gruden’s QB Camp.  Jon Gruden breaks down the top NFL draft pick QBs on his show.  He spends time reviewing film with them and takes them out to the field to review their mechanics.  Gruden has just the personality to pull this show off and it truly is entertaining.  He’s not afraid to put the QBs on the hot seat and point out their weaknesses.  It’s very easy to imagine Gruden back as a head coach getting into the head of to his prize QB prospect.  Here are some short 4-5 minute clips on ESPN’s website of the 30 minute show you can catch on ESPN or ESPN2:

Gruden’s QB Camp:  Gabbert

Gruden’s QB Camp:  Newton

Gruden’s QB Camp:  Mallet

Gruden’s QB Camp:  Dalton

Gruden’s QB Camp:  Locker

Glazier Clinics Offer Free Scholarship for Youth Football Coaches

Written By: hawkcoach - Apr• 19•11

Here is a tremendous opportunity offered through Glazier Clinics for Youth Football Coaches.  You can sign up for a free admission to Glazier Clinics and there is a scholarship opportunity that gives coaches an opportunity to receive free access to the Glazier Clinics Online.  Follow the link below for more information:

Glazier Clinics Youth Coach Scholarships

Review Frontline’s Football High Documentary

Written By: hawkcoach - Apr• 14•11

On Tuesday PBS aired a documentary called “Football High” on Frontline.  The show highlighted some concerns particularly in the area of head trauma and heat strokes. 

Here is a snippet of the video and a link to the full episode.  I’d love to hear your comments.

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

Handling a Loss in Youth Football

Written By: hawkcoach - Apr• 09•11

Nobody likes to lose.  Everybody will lose at some point.  How you react when you do lose will have a big impact on your players.

It always grieves me to see coaches yelling, screaming and berating their players after a loss.  Saying things like “If you’d only listen to me we’d have won the game.”  Telling their team that specific plays or specific players lost the game for them.  Challenging their players’ motivation or desire.  Letting their team know that “things are going to change next practice, no more fun until we start winning!”

Take notes during a game about specific things your team needs to work on regardless of whether you are winning or losing.  Keep your coaching positive.  Yelling at and embarrassing your players doesn’t motivate them to achieve for the right reasons.  Keep upbeat even if you are losing, never let your team think that it’s hopeless to keep trying their best.  Never encourage your team to blame the loss on officials or a specific teammate or play.

youth football player after a loss

Losing isn't fun!

When the game is over and your team lost, it’s time for you as their coach to put things in perspective.  A loss isn’t the end of the world.  How your team responds to losing tells more about their character than how they respond to a win.  Start off by telling your team what they did well.  Point out some great plays that were made.  Review your game notes and talk about some fundamentals you’ll work on next practice to make your team better without pointing out specific players.  You’ll be tempted to put your teacher hat on and explain how they could have used a technique better or play differently but resist that urge.  Save it until the next practice when both you and the players will be over the emotions of losing.  Encourage and build up, don’t beat them while they are already down.

This is your chance to emphasize how a team wins and loses as a team and not as individuals.  More than any other sport, football requires a team to have chemistry – to have an “us against the world” attitude.  One way to build this chemistry is to face challenges and difficulties while depending on one another. 

Losing stinks!  When it happens it requires you to step up and act like an adult who has a firm grasp on how to handle the ups & downs we experience in life.  It’s perhaps the most teachable moment you’ll have as a coach.

Coach’s Game Day Checklist

Written By: hawkcoach - Apr• 09•11


Coach checklist for youth football

Checklist for youth football coach

A football coach has many roles but definitely the most public one is game day coaching.  A successful game coach will always have spent a significant amount of time preparing for the game.  Any neglected minor details could become major issues during the game.  I like to have a checklist to make sure I’m not forgetting anything.

Here’s a partial list of tasks & equipment you may wish to add to your checklist:

  • Multiple copies of depth chart
  • Playbook
  • Clipboards
  • Wrist coaches
  • Towels (in case of rainy weather)
  • Pre-game warm up & practice plan
  • Cones for pre-game warm-up drills
  • Game ball
  • Balls for pre-game warm-up
  • Kicking Tees
  • Equipment kit (Get a small tool box or tackle box and keep these extras on hand)
    • Extra shoulder straps & clips
    • Extra chin strap & pad snaps for helmet
    • Extra jaw guards for helmet in most popular sizes
    • Mouth Guards
    • Shoelaces
    • Athletic Tape
  • First aid kit & ice packs

The next most important step is to make sure that you’ve divided the game responsibilities appropriately.  Let’s assume you are the head coach and offensive coordinator.   Assign a member of your coaching staff the responsibility of the depth chart and making sure the right personnel are on the field at the right time.  Another assistant coach might be the defensive coordinator.  Another staff member or a parent might be in charge of injuries, emergencies and water.

It’s also a good idea to divide responsibilities while watching the plays develop on the field.  If this is not done, inevitably everyone will be watching the ball carrier.  You’ll have no idea if the defense is playing unsound or is ripe to be exploited if you are watching your own backfield.  While on offense assign someone the task of watching the defensive backfield, someone to watch the offensive and defensive lines and someone should be watching your own backfield.  This way you can know when to call a play to a specific hole or call your counter & reverse plays.  Similarly divide the responsibilities when on defense so you can have a good grasp of how your defense is reacting and be able to anticipate what the offense will do.

Which of the following game day experiences would you rather have?

Scenario One:  You show up 30 minutes before game and realize you forgot the kicking tee at home.  You meet with the assistant coaches and discuss what you should do for pre-game warm ups.  10 minutes before the game starts the officials call for team captains and you quickly scan the roster to try and determine who should be captain.  Just before kickoff your tailback lets you know he lost his mouth guard so you sent his dad after one, hoping he finds one before the second quarter.  When the game starts you are frazzled and have a tough time focusing so you just start trying things hoping for a big score.

Scenario Two:  You show up one hour before the game and start setting up cones for your pre-game warm ups.  When the assistant coaches arrive you hand them a clipboard with a printed depth chart and a list of which coach is responsible for which game responsibilities.  Your team practices crisply and you call them together and share with them some wisdom about how your team will win the game.  When the game starts you feel in the groove and have a plan of what plays you will call to set up the offense for your big plays later in the game. 

Proper pre-game planning and having a checklist will not only make you a better coach, it will help you get much more enjoyment out of coaching games.